There are times in our lives when everything is going well for us and life is great. It’s easy then to be positive and give the appearance of being a great faith filled Christian doing things for God, but life is not always like that. Challenges and opposition comes, things do not happen the way we want, people let us down or misunderstand us and even the everyday issues of life seem to be overwhelming. Sometimes it seems as if we are going to buckle under the weight of what seems to be an endless cycle of dramas, illness, lack of money and failures that make us want to cry out in despair, “What next?” When one thing after another happens to us that fray our nerves and challenge our whole belief structure it can make us wonder why we bother trying and want to quit.
This little story is about him. Perhaps you can identify with what I am about to share.
It is one thing to give all outward appearances of being a person of faith and confidence and have everything going for us, but another when real life kicks in and the wheels are about to fall off everything. Perhaps you have a “promise from God” that you know that you know it is for you and that it is not your imagination, and you are waiting...waiting...waiting...waiting...waiting...waiting...
Imagine what would have happend if Noah quit 119 years after God spoke to him.
He preached righteousness and built the ark for 120 years and no one believed him, but once the rain started falling, it took mere hours to change everything and he was safe and dry inside! If you feel like him or father Abraham, you are in good company. Imagine how he felt. God had told him to leave familiar territory, including everything that was near and dear to him and go. Go where? What will I do there? How will I know I have arrived? What if it doesn’t work? Did I hear right?
One day God told him that he and Sarah would have a son and how happy they were, but that happiness soon dissipated as year after year passed on and that promise was still eluding them. Imagine their conversations over dinner. Sarah might have said something like, “We heard God speak to us, but did He mean it would be you and me who would have the child, or you and Hagar?” I wonder how many ministries or churches exist, based on such premises. Don’t tell me you never wonder about things—we all do. We can hear God’s voice clearly and choose to act on it or not. We can hear His voice and misinterpret it and we can hear Him and believe what He said and over the course of time allow it to fade away. These are human traits common to all men and the one I find most difficulty with, as most folk do I guess, is keeping the fire burning when we have been holding onto that special promise God gave us and the years have passed on and that promise seems as if it is never going to happen, or when things do not turn out the way we expected them to.
You “spiritual folk” aren’t like that of course, but John was wondering when things did not work out the way he expected. Locked up in the rotten, stinking hell hole of a prison, he sent his remaining disciples to Jesus to ask the Lord if He really was “the one”.
Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Matthew 11:2
If, by Jesus’ own admission, John was the greatest prophet to have ever lived and He started to wonder about things, it is not surprising that you and I can have second thoughts at times. The issue is not that we may think like that at times, but what we do about it when things happen. We can bring our thinking processes under control.
So now we have two giants of the faith who needed to make sure that they were on the right track but there was a third and this man was Peter. We can criticize him for many things, including brashness, impetuous behavior and outright denial of the Lord, not once, but three times. Let us take a look at the man for a while.
One of his traits was that he often spoke without thinking. I reach that conclusion from the account in Matthew 17 and Mark 9 when Jesus was transfigured. Mark’s account says that he did not know what to say, because they were all afraid.
In Matthew 17, certain folk asked Peter if Jesus paid the temple tax and if you look carefully, it appears that He gave a quick answer without first consulting the Lord about it. Sometimes it is best to say nothing.
Peter also acted irrationally on occasions. In John 18, when Jesus was arrested, Peter drew a sword and hacked off the ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant in a rash and impetuous action that on analysis could have caused a major retaliation by the soldiers there, perhaps killing everyone on the spot
There are other illustrations I could use to suggest that he had a strange disposition to say the least and I say that not to criticize the man but to illustrate that anyone can be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus called him an unstable pebble, knowing that the day would come when he would one day be as solid as a rock.
To lay more of a foundation, let us look at the events of Calvary, starting with the Last Supper. It was the Jewish feast of Pesach (Passover). This feast was held over an 8 day period Pesach that begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan.
It is the first of the three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are Shavu’ot and Sukkot). Agriculturally, it represents the beginning of the harvest season in Israel and it relates to the Exodus from Egypt after generations of slavery. This story is told in Exodus, Chapters 1-15.
The actual Passover meal that we relate to took place on the last day and it was this meal that Jesus ate every year of His life since birth. His last Passover meal as such was what we call the Last Supper, during which the Lord stated that someone would betray Him. Peter reacted as usual, saying that he would never do such a thing. Everyone except John reacted and he asked the Lord who it was. He correctly knew he was not the betrayer, but he too fled when Jesus was arrested. He did at least identify himself with the Lord at Calvary when Jesus placed his mother into his care. Peter was not even there!
If we are really honest with ourselves, we do not know how we would respond to any situation until we are in it.
Jesus knew what would happen as usual and told him that he would fail. Peter denied the Lord three times and on the third time, the cock crew just as the Lord said. The KJV says that Peter wept bitterly.
The Greek describes this as a grief stricken wailing. It was not simple crying. This was an extreme emotional expression that I have never heard and do not think I would ever want to hear. He realized then that he had really blown it big time and, not knowing what was going to happen next, did not see any future. As a Jew, he had been looking for Messiah and a restoration of the kingdom, the overthrow of the Romans and more and suddenly it was all gone.
Imagine having all your hopes, dreams, expectations and future shattered forever and being a party to it.
There may be times when we all feel like quitting. I am not talking about walking away from the Lord, but about simply giving up or going through the motions. We could see others being blessed, but not us.
Peter might have thought like that and really gave up—and in the process led others astray. Even if for no other reason, we cannot allow ourselves to keep on thinking negatively, because what we do (or neglect to do) does impact on others.
Someone else could be looking at you, hoping in some way to see a glimmer of hope, a stability factor that they lack and want and you could be the only person in the world who can help them find the answers they need to help them.
Peter had to yet be fully converted and be filled with the Holy Spirit, so unless we have those experiences, we are no different. Even then, we can make mistakes, become hurt and disillusioned. John’ account goes like this:
Simon Peter, Thomas (called “Twin”), Nathanael from Cana of Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of His disciples were together. “I’m going fishing,” Simon Peter said to them. “We’re coming with you,” they told him. They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. When daybreak came, Jesus stood on the shore. However, the disciples did not know it was Jesus. John 21:2-4
The KJV says, I go a fishing. In the Greek phrase for “I go” is Ὑπάγω or hypágō. It means refers to giving up. It talks about retiring, wanting to hide and to slink away out of sight. This word has several meanings, including to lead under, to lead from under, to go away and to lead astray. He had given up and in the process, was starting to take others with him. This thing can be contagious. The others joined him without hesitation and the account states that they entered into a ship immediately.
This raises certain questions like, “Whose ship was it?” I put it to you that it was Peter’s ship. We have believed traditional stories and formed opinions over the years that may or may not be true. I often relate to the traditional Christmas story of the three wise men and like it, but the bible never says that there were 3 wise men. All that it says is that wise men from the East came to present their gifts (three groups in all of gold, frankincense and myrrh). We have assumed that the shepherds were present at the time and that choirs of angels were singing when they arrived, but the bible does not describe it like that at all.
We have formed doctrines on such assumptions and one such assumption is that Peter forsook everything to follow Jesus and that might not be true. We need to read the scriptures correctly for ourselves. On such basis, I have wondered where they got that ship in the middle of the night so quickly and can only conclude that it was one of Peter’s.
Please put yourself in his position. Here he is, a family man who is going about his business when Jesus came into his life.
How they initially met is not certain, because the Lord had been a guest in his home before Jesus strode down the beach when he was washing his nets with the others and told them to follow Him. Jesus didn’t get into Peter’s boat and ask him to launch out into the deep on their first meeting. They knew each other beforehand! I urge you to study the Gospel accounts carefully for yourself. Over the next three years, Peter heard the Lord teaching and preaching (the two are different) and had witnessed the miracles Jesus did. He went out on ministry assignments from time to time and had started to see that this man he was following was not just a man, but the promised and long awaited Messiah.
Suddenly, all of his hopes, dreams and expectations were dashed and Jesus was dead.
Please remember as I said earlier that he was not yet born again and Spirit filled. Even now, we can sometimes struggle with our belief. What would you do if as if overnight, everything you had hoped for and believed in was suddenly taken away? It’s very difficult. I know—I have been there. I also know that God does not fail us and that He is always working to a plan. I’ve read the end of the book and we win, but between “Amen” and “There it is” things can happen!
Peter did all that he knew and went fishing, but did not catch a thing. I will not go into all of the story, but the Lord came to them in that cold and misty morning with breakfast and brought restoration to Peter. He had denied the Lord three times and the Lord dealt with each and every denial there on the shore.
If you have failed, the Lord has a way of bringing restoration right there in the middle of your mess, pick you up, brush the dust off you, give a big hug, wipe away the tears and get you started again.
He went out of His way then to do that to Peter and He will do it for you.
I think that Peter was suffering all kinds of emotional problems. In our modern society, we could say that he was stressing out big time, or on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I can imagine the guilt or shame he felt. Disappointment and shattered dreams are enough, but he suddenly came face to face with himself, despite all his bravado and supposed boldness, he knew that he had failed and simply gave up. He had wanted to before and it happened when the Lord was saying some hard things. He often spoke bluntly and to the point. He never got involved in the “political correctness” that is pervading society and the church today. We see this in John 6 when the Lord was speaking to people this way-
Jesus said to them, “I am the Bread of Life. Come every day to me and you will never be hungry. Believe in me and you will never be thirsty. Yet I’ve told you that even though you’ve seen me, you still don’t believe in me. But everyone my Father has given to me, they will come. And all who come to me, I will embrace and will never turn them away. And I have come out of heaven not for my own desires, but for the satisfaction of my Father who sent me. My Father who sent me has determined that I will not lose even one of those he has given to me, and I will raise them up in the last day. For the longing of my Father is that everyone who embraces the Son and believes in him will experience eternal life and I will raise them up in the last day!”
When the Jews who were hostile to Jesus heard him say, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” they immediately began to complain, “How can he say these things about himself? We know him, and we know his parents. How dare he say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’ ”
Jesus responded, “Stop your grumbling! The only way people come to me is by the Father who sent me—he pulls on their hearts to embrace me. And those who are drawn to me, I will certainly raise them up in the last day.”
Jesus continued, “It has been written by the prophets, ‘They will all be taught by God himself.’If you are really listening to the Father and learning directly from him, you will come to me. For I am the only One who has come from the Father’s side, and I have seen the Father!
“I speak to you living truth: Unite your heart to me and believe—and you will experience eternal life! I am the true Bread of Life. Your ancestors ate manna in the desert and died. But standing here before you is the true Bread that comes out of heaven, and when you eat this Bread you will never die. I alone am this living Bread that has come to you from heaven. Eat this Bread and you will live forever. The living Bread I give you is my body, which I will offer as a sacrifice so that all may live.”
These words of Jesus sparked an angry outburst among the Jews. They protested, saying, “Does this man expect us to eat his body?” Jesus replied to them, “Listen to this eternal truth: Unless you eat the body of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have eternal life. Eternal life comes to the one who eats my body and drinks my blood, and I will raise him up in the last day. For my body is real food for your spirit and my blood is real drink. The one who eats my body and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him. The Father of life sent me, and he is my life. In the same way, the one who feeds upon me, I will become his life. I am not like the bread your ancestors ate and later died. I am the living Bread that comes from heaven. Eat this Bread and you will live forever!”
Jesus preached this sermon in the synagogue in Capernaum. And when many of Jesus’ followers heard these things, it caused a stir. “That’s disgusting!” they said. “How could anybody accept it?”
Without anyone telling him, Jesus knew they were outraged and told them, “Are you offended over my teaching? What will you do when you see the Son of Man ascending into the realm from where he came?
“The Holy Spirit is the one who gives life, that which is of the natural realm is of no help. The words I speak to you are Spirit and life. But there are still some of you who won’t believe.”
In fact, Jesus already knew from the beginning who the skeptics were and who his traitor would be.
He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one embraces me unless the Father has given you to me.”
And so from that time on many of the disciples turned their backs on Jesus and refused to be associated with him.
So Jesus said to his twelve, “And you—do you also want to leave?” John 6:35-67
Many of His disciples got so offended that they quit. Peter also wanted to leave and said so. The Lord asked everyone if what He said offended them. It had and they admitted it. As I said, He never got involved in religious political correctness, but spoke the truth, with the demonstration of this truth by the attesting miracles. If we are truly following Him as we often say we are, we cannot ignore that element—but we do. This demonstration, or the miracles, has to follow our ministries, or we are not doing what Jesus did and told us to do. He asked them outright if it offended them and Peter said it did, but chose to stay with Him because there was nowhere else to go. Honestly, if we do give up and walk away, where else could we go? The bible clearly reveals that if we do, we finish up in big trouble. One statement was that we are worse than a dog returning to its vomit.
Jesus said that once we put our hand to the plow and turn back we are disqualified.
We can get hurt and disappointed; people can offend us and betray us; things do not work out as we had hoped, but we can grit our teeth, look at the good times we have had, remember what God has already done for us and keep going nevertheless.
Backsliding, as some people call it is an utter and total rejection of Jesus. When we feel down and disgruntled and can even stop going to church, it does not mean that we have turned our backs on God. When I left my denomination many years ago, many of the pastors I knew blacklisted me and called me names, including backslider, but all I did was to obey the direction God led me and my walk with Him was enhanced! My pastor at the time had a map of the town on the wall of his office and placed differently colored stickpins on the houses of members and adherents and leaders. Each color represented in his opinion the “spirituality” of the individuals. Blue ones were for leaders. Green ones were for tithers. Red and yellow ones were for others and black ones were those who had fallen out of his favor.
I had a conversation with my mentor many years after leaving, telling him how I had a special prayer closet on a tree stump on my 10.5 acre property and prayed in tongues. He was flabbergasted. Spluttering, he could not believe that I still spoke in tongues, thinking I had walked away from the Lord. If anything, my relationship with God improved and it is a sad thing to realize that religious folk are stuck in a rut and want to force you into their mould. Unfortunately, it is a very large Pentecostal denomination. I pioneered many churches and the last one I started was an hour and a half drive away, so my Sundays were long. I drove through floodwaters to plant that church before I left and the last time I checked there was a membership of around 250 people, but because of the attitude of this pastor, I never received an invitation to attend the dedication of the new church building. That stuff is not Godly! Many folk were amazed and offended. It hurt, but I brushed the dust off my feet in the way the Lord said to do and kept on going. Once I did, God really started to move in my life. Why not before?
This kind of thing happens all too often and I am sharing this not to judge or criticize, but to show you that we can be hurt and wounded in churches and simply leave them—but not “backslide”. When we are born again, we “invite” Jesus into our lives.
If people only realize it, to “backslide” as they say, we really need to tell Him to get out of our lives and leave us alone. He bought us with a very dear price and is not about to let go easily! I think someone needed to hear that. Please do not cut yourself off completely from fellow ship with the Saints. We need each other, even if we are not perfect yet.
I said that Peter had quit. That’s true, but he had not “backslidden” in the sense I discussed. He was hurting big time and was lost, not knowing what to do next and so did the only thing he knew and that was to return to his old trade of fishing. Those with him were most likely also in a mixed up state, so I do not blame them for joining him.
Let us now look at Easter Sunday morning when the women arrived at the tomb to find it empty
On the first day of the week, as the Sabbath was ending, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jacob, and Salome made their way to the tomb. It was very early in the morning as the first streaks of light were beginning to be seen in the sky. They had purchased aromatic embalming spices so that they might anoint his body. And they had been asking one another, “Who can roll away the heavy stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they arrived, they discovered that the very large stone that had sealed the tomb was already rolled away! And as they stepped into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right, dressed in a long white robe. The women were startled and amazed. But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you’re here looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here—he has risen victoriously! Look! See the place where they laid him. Mark 16:1-6
The thing that sets us apart from every other religion is the fact that Jesus is alive.
He is no longer the suffering Messiah hanging on the cross and the tomb is empty.
He is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven right now.
He is making intercession for you as our Great High Priest. Jesus is praying for you!
I cannot reinforce that enough.
Regardless of what you may have done, He loves you more than you can imagine and is praying for you.
He wants you to make it and what is better yet, is that He knows where you are at right now.
I can say that with full assurance because of what happened next.
When those dear women arrived at the tomb, intending to do all that they were capable of doing, He was gone!
An angel was sitting there. The Lord knew that they would be there and gave this angel a special assignment. God’s holy angels are totally faithful and committed to their assignments and do not act on their own initiative. As our Great High Priest, Jesus was presenting His own blood to God to make full and total atonement for our sin. That was His primary objective and function at that time, but He thought so much of people like you and me—and people like Mary and Peter, He did something wonderful.
Very early Sunday morning, before sunrise, Mary Magdalene made her way to the tomb. And when she arrived she discovered that the stone that sealed the entrance to the tomb was moved away! So she went running as fast as she could to go tell Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved.
She told them, “They’ve taken the Lord’s body from the tomb, and we don’t know where he is!” Then Peter and the other disciple jumped up and ran to the tomb to go see for themselves. They started out together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He didn’t enter the tomb, but peeked in, and saw only the linen cloths lying there. Then Peter came behind him and went right into the tomb. He too noticed the linen cloths lying there, but the burial cloth that had been on Jesus’ head had been rolled up and placed separate from the other cloths.
Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first went in, and after one look, he believed! For until then they hadn’t understood the Scriptures that prophesied that he was destined to rise from the dead.
Puzzled, Peter and the other disciple then left and went back to their homes.
Mary arrived back at the tomb, broken and sobbing. She stooped to peer inside, and through her tears she saw two angels in dazzling white robes, sitting where Jesus’ body had been laid—one at the head and one at the feet!
“Dear woman, why are you crying?” they asked.
Mary answered, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve laid him.”
Then she turned around to leave, and there was Jesus standing in front of her, but she didn’t realize that it was him!
He said to her, “Dear woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
Mary answered, thinking he was only the gardener, “Sir, if you have taken his body somewhere else, tell me, and I will go and …”
“Mary,” Jesus interrupted her.
Turning to face him, she said, “Rabboni!” (Aramaic for “my teacher”)
Jesus cautioned her, “Mary, don’t hold on to me now, for I haven’t yet ascended to God, my Father. And he’s not only my Father and God, but now he’s your Father and your God! Now go to my brothers and tell them what I’ve told you, that I am ascending to my Father—and your Father, to my God—and your God!”
Then Mary Magdalene left to inform the disciples of her encounter with Jesus. “I have seen the Lord!” she told them. And she gave them his message. John 20:1-18
Jesus only spoke one word and it was this woman’s name. This shows me that He loves us so much that He knows our names and knows us as individuals. I cannot reinforce this enough! You are indeed special. He was about to perform a vitally important ministry task, but paused long enough to call her by her name and make the relationship personal, but there was something more. Let me continue with the Gospel account where the individuals are specifically listed.
And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salomé, bought sweet spices, that they might go and anoint him.
This angel was given specific messages to bring. Firstly, he reassured the women not to be afraid and astonished. He then told them what they were planning to do, indicating to me that God knows the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. He knows that you desire to worship Him, or to serve Him, or to be useful and productive, to help our brothers and sisters, or even (God forbid) if we couldn’t care less. He knows us better than we know ourselves.
This angel revealed the facts that Jesus was crucified and died, but that He was no longer not dead. He told them that Jesus was risen and no longer in the grave, but in glory and then invited them to see where he had been, whilst qualifying that invitation with a little word called but. He told them where they would next see Jesus. We must never keep looking at the cross or at that grave as if He is still there. He isn’t, but certain Christian groups keep him there by their belief structures and whilst we are to remember, we are to look forward...
I will now bring this to a conclusion. We started talking about Peter and I reiterate that this man was suffering all kinds of emotional problems. In our modern society, we could say that he was stressing out big time, or on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I can imagine the guilt or shame he felt. Disappointment and shattered dreams are enough, but he suddenly came face to face with himself, despite all his bravado and supposed boldness, he knew that he had failed and simply gave up.
He had wanted to before and although I said that Peter had quit which he did, but he had not “backslidden” in the sense I discussed.
He was hurting big time and was lost, not knowing what to do next and so did the only thing he knew and that was to return to his old trade of fishing. Those with him were most likely also in a mixed up state, so I do not blame them for joining him. I think I would. I can now wind this up, by returning to the tomb when the women had arrived to find it empty where the angel spoke two powerful words.
In Mark’s account, this angel, who was on a mission and who only said and did what he received in his instructions, told the women that Jesus wasn’t there—that He had risen, invited them to see where Jesus had laid.
This was important. The Lord had been telling them ever since they first met that this would happen, but they simply could not understand it. There are times when we cannot comprehend certain things and are vulnerable, especially when emotionally stressed. At such times, we need the assurance that only God’s word can provide us and that we can only understand when the Holy Spirit reveals things. He told this angel to bring a measure of assurance to them. Even then, His guarantee to never leave us or forsake us was evident and it is as valid to you and me today as it was then.
His instructions were to go and tell the disciples.
They needed to know.
So do we.
This brings me to something very powerful. He specifically mentioned Peter by name. God knows your name!
At such a crucial time, Jesus was officiating as our Great High Priest for all people, but He made specific mention of a man who had failed—and knew it.
The Lord wanted to make sure that Peter was not an outcast. He made sure that Peter knew that he was still loved and wanted. He ensured that Peter was comforted in his grief and anguish, pain and sorrow and that the guilt and shame he bore was no longer his to carry, because the Lord had dealt with every issue.
My friend, if you have goofed off and are feeling it; if you have any issue that is causing you distress; if you think that you have made such a big mistake (or many mistakes) that God is done with you, I can assure you that this is not the case.
He is never so far from you that you cannot reach out to Him and that He will reciprocate—He is there to help you and support you.
Imagine being present at that time.
The Lord said via the angel, Go and tell the disciples, but make sure that you tell..................................................(your name) that I am alive and that I love you.